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A quick guide to how to find images

If you’re reading this, you are probably contemplating using images in your teaching as part of a multimedia strategy that embraces the findings of cognitive science. A lot of questions come up in this, because we’re traversing from monomedia and extensive reliance on text as an artificial external construct, to a more balanced delivery better aligned with the biological construction of the brain’s multimedia modality.

One of the key questions relates to where we can find images, and how we can look for them (copyright is treated in another blog XXXX) This blog is designed to help with that by outlining a process I’ve developed that works well for me, that you can interrogate, adapt or reject as you see fit. Most people will develop their own methods; this isn’t a prescriptive blog; it presents some outlines that may help the evolution of your own autonomous approaches. To begin with, I don’t think there’s any requirement to saturate your sessions with images; a few to start with will do to get into it, and perhaps to see how your students react. Start small, go large if you feel there is a reason to do so.

Start small, go large. Copyright David Roberts 2018

Before I go further and outline the process and tools I use, I’ll mention Haiku Deck. Haiku Deck is an interim point between using PowerPoint in a text-centric fashion, and using PowerPoint in multimedia mode, with images. Haiku Deck is online software that’s free to use in small doses and cheap to use in larger ones that does the looking for you and creates PowerPoint-esque slides you can access from anywhere. There’s a video of how it works below; the software finds copyright-safe images from your word prompts (‘accounts’, ‘blood cells’, ‘community’) and you get professional-looking slides quickly. As with any easy solution there are downsides: the images may not work for you and you may want to find your own (you can, and upload them to Haiku Deck as well, as it happens). I think it’s a really good entry-point tool to get you going without too much effort and in a reasonable amount of time.

If Haiku Deck’s not for you, it may help to formulate a process and sources of images. I’ll start with the process. My first port of call is normally Google’s Advanced Image Search engine, which allows you to calibrate searches based on image (pixel) size, type of image, colour/b+w and so on (I rarely use images smaller than 800 x 600 pixels to ensure good quality on-screen; that’s also the right ‘shape’ for most PowerPoint presentations). In addition, AIS allows for a copyright filtered search. You can select from a variety of options to seek images that are copyright safe. You’ll see an immediate drop in the number of high-quality images when you do this, but it's not completely reliable because the copyright ascribed to an image when it’s uploaded may not be accurate. For example, someone uploading an image may classify it as their property or may ascribe an incorrect copyright ownership to it. AIS can only classify based on how the copyright stands when it’s being uploaded. If you want to check the provenance of an image you’ve found, TinEye does a good job of this.

So now I'm ready to search. Suppose I'm teaching in a discipline that has to cover corruption. If I have on my first slide the term ‘corporate corruption’, that’s the text I enter into Google’s AIS. I set the image size to 800 x 600 but I don’t set copyright to start with. There may be images I’m legally prevented from using that give me ideas for a different search that turns up something else I can use. If I don’t get something I can use at the first attempt, that’s quite normal, I adjust the search; there are often different ways to express the same point. My mind normally then starts working out what’s absent from the first image/s I find that make me reject it/them, and what’s therefore needed, or I identify what's present and needs to be discarded. I then rephrase the search and more often than not, I come up with a better find. For instance, if ‘corporate corruption’ doesn’t yield the right result for me, I might adjust it to ‘Finnish/British/Zimbabwean corporate corruption’. Adjusting what we are saying whilst adhering to what we want to communicate, in line with our Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs), focuses the search for the most apposite image. This can sometimes take us off-course, so we need to check that each image we consider is still close enough to the meaning we want to convey. Suppose, however, I find an image that my mind tells me is OK but isn’t satisfying. The one below, of the man pulling back stormy skies and sea to reveal tranquil land and blue sky, came up when I was looking for something to represent ‘change’. I knew it would do if there was nothing better, but it was a bit simple and I had hoped to find something more challenging.

I searched again and added ‘metaphor’ after ‘change’ and found a series that looked at butterfly metamorphosis. This image is one of my own, but there were others I could have used.

Metamorphosis. Copyright David Roberts 2017

It is a more subtle and stimulating expression of change: I guide them to the meaning I need to convey by dissecting the image with them. I repeat until I have the image I want. You may need to allocate more time for this, to begin with, but that’s the same with any innovative process, and if you’re still reading this, I would suspect you care enough to make the time investment, even though you are almost certainly already swamped with an ever-expanding workload.

One advantage of Google’s AIS is that it can be a ‘one-stop-shop’. It will serve our purposes some of the time, and time is something we have too little of, pedagogically-speaking. So it will likely seem the most cost-effective way of doing things. But there are other sites holding images that don’t always, or ever, show up, simply because the images haven’t been indexed, tagged, catalogued or for some other reason, remain invisible to Google. AIS works well up to a point. If I don’t have subscriptions (I’ll come to them) and want to be sure of copyright-safe images, I go to one of several free-to-use-for-anything sites. Maybe the most famous of these is Unsplash, an emerging and prolific site full of artists’ photographic works. Many of them are quite beautiful, and the site serves as a platform to launch such artists. In my opinion, the images are of little use: they are form rather than function. In other words, they are beautiful but convey little that we might need an image to convey. I use the site if I’m looking to composite an image in Photoshop, but they have rarely been useful to me in teaching, presentations or training. The are mostly art for art’s sake, which is a wonderful thing, but they carry little relevant meaning for us. There’s an example below, by Josh Hild. It’s a beautiful photograph and exemplifies Unsplash’s commitment to new photographers, but it’s utility may be quite limited

There are, however, other sites perhaps less famous than Unsplash that have thousands of high-quality copyright-safe images we can use in business presentations. These are often ‘front’ sites for the subscription image providers. Pixabay, for example, fronts for Adobe Stock images, and for Shutterstock. These front sites, at the time of writing, invite voluntary attribution for their free images, which I normally do. I think if someone is a good enough photographer/artist that I want to use an image of theirs to advance my own cause, I should say where that image came from. There are many such sites and I’ve provided details of the ones I’ve found most useful here. There’s also a brilliant free site provided by NASA

'Pipsqueak Star Unleashes Monster Flare'

Yet other sites are curated around sharing. Flickr has a very large community of Creative Commons image providers who offer their work – and some of it is world-class – on the basis that you attribute the image and let them know you’ve used it. If it’s a worthy image that does what you want it to, it may be worth the effort involved in leaving a message on the photographer’s site page. There is also a very large curation of artwork at DeviantArt. The artists are generally quite cooperative if you ask for permission to use an image in a lecture – it’s free circulation and advertising, and I always make sure they can authenticate me on my university site, so they know they’re not being scammed. But if none of these sites work for you, or if you only want to use one because of time constraints, if you’re ever in doubt, you don’t have to use it. The walls won’t come tumbling down if you surrender that one ‘perfect’ image because you’re unsure of its provenance.

As with any new approach to something, there is an investment in time required at start-up. I wrote this blog based on my own experiences of learning and practicing so others might get there quicker. If you’d like further support, you can reach mE through my consultancy.

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